Saturday, September 24, 2011

Up And Down The Inside Passage

At the end of August we headed up to Haida Gwaii (The Queen Charlotte Islands) via the Canadian Inside Passage. The journey through the passage was as much the point of the trip as the destination. We cruised in style on the MS Northwest Expedition and the MS Northwest Adventure, ferries of the large BC Ferries fleet.

Our journey began in Anacortes, WA where we caught a Washington State ferry to Sidney, BC. The photo above maps our route from Anacortes on Fidalgo Island, between Blakely and Center Islands, past the northern end of Lopez Island, between Shaw and Orcas Islands, down to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, dropped off/picked up passengers, continued back up to Northeast side of San Juan Island, crossed the maritime U.S./Canadian border, sailed through Haro Straight and into Sidney, BC on the Saanitch Peninsula on Vancouver Island. Whew.
I really dig cormorants. There are several nests built into the dock at Anacortes. But I have to say they sure are a stinky lot.
I'm always amazed at the endless shades of blue.
It was a very peaceful day for sailing.

I'm not sure what was going on on this island. Looked interesting from a distance.Ferry workers chat as we pull into Friday Harbor.I like the patterns in the water as the boat pulls into the dock.
Off the boat, we headed for the Victoria Royal BC Museum, located on the Inner Harbor across from the Parliament Building.In the First Peoples Gallery I really loved the Haida argillite carvings. The argillite is located on Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands, and the Haida have the sole rights to it. I also am partial to raven images and crab images so I really liked this piece.If you click on this pic you can really appreciate the intricate detail work in these buttons. These are woven from cedar bark.
Right in the main lobby, the first thing you see if you come in the front door (we got turned around and came in the side door) is John Lennon's Rolls Royce. It's been in the museum's permanent collection since 1987. It's only on display part of the year so I guess we were lucky to see it.
I dig crabs, love 'em. And I love fossils. So I was very impressed with this fossil. Nothing like a 50 million year-old fossil to melt a girl's heart.
As impressive as the fossils were the bird eggs. It's amazing that these eggs develop such beautiful designs and colors.

The Swainson's Thrush happens to have one of my favorite calls. I hear it in one specific area of my walk to the beach in Discovery park. I've also heard it in the woods leading to the boardwalk at the Mary Theler Wetlands.
Yes, I love moths too.
For dinner we tried Santiago's. I must say, their veggie burger was just great. I make a variety of veggie burgers so I'm always trying versions of them when offered in restaurants. This one didn't disappoint. It was savory with garlic and curry and it was chewy and nutty. The jalapeno salsa on top was spicy with a hint of sweetness. What's with this dessert? Is Paula Dean hiding in the kitchen? This sounds really gross. Hey, look, it's BC's crest.
The next day we started the drive up the length of Vancouver Island. We were in no hurry, we had no agenda. Our destination was Port Hardy and it was just the stop-over before we boarded the ferry to take us up through the inside passage. So we were open to making plenty of stops to explore.We found a great roadside market. I love snack foods of other countries and this market had a great selection. We also stocked up on fresh fruit for our car cooler.

While traveling, don't forget to look back now and then to remember where you've been.
And don't forget to stop for lunch.
Take advantage of all the turn-outs to take in the views.
Here is a view of the Saanich Peninsula from along Trans-Canada highway 1.
Looks like another BC Ferry.
And suddenly, we're on the MS Northwest Expedition on our way up the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert. But it's not at all about Prince Rupert, it's all about the voyage up the Passage.

This next shot is the Aurora Lounge. For a few extra dollars, you can reserve a seat in this spacious lounge with the best forward-facing view. We were in the front row, practically dead center. The seats recline. Power outlets are spaced every few seats. The lounge has its own set of restrooms. And snacks were brought in mid-morning and early afternoon. And access to the lounge comes in the form of a plastic credit-card like key. Is this where you'd spend the whole journey? No, but it sure made a great retreat when we wanted to, well, retreat.
The ferry ride is about 15 hours one-way. In the meantime, you can watch a movie in the theater, eat in the cafeteria, have a more formal breakfast or dinner in the dining room, explore the gift shop, sit on the many sun decks, or just watch the Inside Passage go by.

You need to be at the dock around 5 am. Boarding is taken pretty seriously. This isn't like boarding the Washington State ferries which are more like commuter transportation. Not to say that the WA ferries are lax in procedure, but this giant BC ferry holds a huge amount of vehicles. It's really important where each vehicle sits in the hull during the voyage.
Here the water is so incredibly blue that it makes a nice contrast to the wake.

Notice these white fuzzy patches in the water. These are jumping salmon. I noticed in this little cove there were at least a dozen jumping at a time. I think it was a really good day for the fishermen you can see on the shore. Click on the photo below and you can catch a clear jumping fish silouette.

The Inside Passage is pretty remote. However, there are a few towns we pass along the way.

Some settlements are temporary fishing and logging camps. These camps are built right on the water and when the season is over, a tug boat tugs the whole operation away.
Of course there are a few lighthouses along the Passage.

These two guys broke into a casual version of "Into The Mystic". Not sure if they knew each other but they became fast friends through the music. There was also a barbeque going on. The ferry was grilling hotdogs and "smokies" and selling chips and soda.

A big Canadian Coast Guard ship sits in the cove right next to Boat Bluff.
And here's Boat Bluff.

Here's the key to the kingdom of the Aurora Lounge.

First time seeing helicopter logging. The concept is pretty straight forward. A helicopter, equipped with a very, very long chain, transports logs from the interior to the water where they are sorted and readied for transport.

Here's one of the floating logging camps I mentioned earlier.
Now we jump to the ferry that took us from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii. This ferry is not as large as the Expedition but still has the gift shop and the cafeteria and they still play a movie. The ride is about 7 hours.

The weather was again just perfect. Here we are leaving Prince Rupert in the distance.
OK, here's one of those situations where by the time you realize what's going on, it's over. I saw what I thought were more fish jumping in the distance. I should have paid more attention and I should have readied the camera sooner but who knew? By the time the Captain of the Watch announced that a couple dozen Pacific Porpoises were headed right for us, it was to late! But it was something to see. We were told this was a rare sighting. It was over in a flash. But here are a couple of shots to prove we saw it.

On Haide Gwaii our home away from home was Dorothy and Mike’s Guest House in Queen Charlotte City. Dorothy and Mike are well-traveled so they are completely in touch with what we visitors like and what we can do without. And they've been hosts for 17 years so they're doing something right. There are two houses, two one-bedroom units and, I'm pretty sure, a semi-private loft and separate room for rent above the one-bedroom units.
It makes all the difference to wake up, shuffle to your own kitchen, make your own coffee and prepare your own breakfast. We prefer this to a standard hotel room any day.

Dorothy is also running the local SPCA, housing rescued cats and kittens and trying to get them adopted. She had a mamma cat and her four kittens while we stayed there and Sally was pulled to visit them every chance she could. Some of the adult rescue cats have set down roots at Dorothy and Mike's and here is one having a drink from the fountain. Um, here is the milk we found in the little market across the street from the guest house. Are they trying to tell us something or were they just trying to make it easy for us to know which milk we should buy?Yum, some lox, some goat cheese, some chewy grainy bread. I'm drawn to the details and I love critters but I've spared you the spider pictures (and videos). but I hope no one is too put off by this shot of water droplets on a spider web. I couldn't resist.
Cruising around Haida Gwaii, the scenery is endless. It's remote and it's wild. The weather changes often. The light and the colors are impossible to capture on "film" but I shot scenes that I enjoyed and I'll try to remember how it really looked. The picture is a good guide to coax the memory.

On our first beach walk we found this fabulous star made of color-coordinate beach rocks. How lucky to find this labor of love.Like I said, I love critters and rocks and sticks and all of it. This includes crab shells. This poor little crab was long deceased but it left behind a beautiful example of Nature's creativity. I was drawn to the spotted claw. This little specimen now resides in my collection. For the record, this little guy was empty so there was no lingering smell of any kind. By the time you find them like this, there is nothing inside. You can always open it up to make sure. You're likely to find water and perhaps a thin membrane which washes away easily. Really, not gross or oogey at all. If the shell has barnacles living on it, I don't take it.
After a chilly beach walk, we want coffee. Then again, we often want coffee. In the little town of Tlell (ta-LELL) we found the Crow's Nest Cafe & Country Store (and post office). Here you can get organic, fair trade, shade grown everything or lunch or a milkshake, fresh produce, mail a package, use the free wifi, or just sip your latte.

Living next door was this very friendly horse.
While on Haida Gwaii we explored the art studios. Here at Sitka Studio you can get local art, hand-made artisan crafts, clothing, coffee and tea, and art supplies. I had completely forgot to bring any of my art journal material so I picked up a sketchbook with a wonderful Haida image on the cover. And I should have asked if this hunk of mammoth tusk was for sale. In Old Massett Sally bought me a stamp with a Haida crab image at Sarah’s Haida Arts & Jewellery. I picked up a cool t-shirt with a local artist's print on it at the Crystal Cabin Gallery.
The next day we hit the beach again, this time all the way at the top of the island in Old Massett.
Don't be fooled by the initial monochromatic appearance of the beach. There is plenty of color and contrast.
Old Massett has eagles like most places have crows. I've only ever seen so many in one place up along the Skagit River.
Adults were hanging out with immature birds (the ones with the mottled coloring).
We accessed the beach off a local road - Old Cemetery Rd. Again we found a message of peace in this ohm symbol someone had painted on a huge piece of drift log.

It's not called Old Cemetery Rd. for nothing. Here is a local cemetery but there was no signage to identify it.
Beach rocks and shells were the main decoration. Really lovely memorials to these loved ones.

And under some of the giant trees were feathers and shells.
Eventually, we say goodbye to Haida Gwaii. We're back on a ferry heading for Prince Rupert. Here is the town of Skidigate as we sail away.
On our way from Haida Gwaii back to Prince Rupert I spotted this ghost ship way in the distance. Enlarging the photo revealed it to be a cruise ship.
Leaving Prince Rupert for the Southbound journey through the Passage, we were completely surrounded by fog. Another ferry waiting for our spot drifted in and out of view, like a phantom.
Remember the floating fishing villages I mentioned, here's one being transported, pulled along by a tug.
Looks like a mama duck and her ducklings.

We missed these fjords on the Northbound trip because it was dark. It's amazing just how different everything looked on the Southbound trip, even the things we saw before we lost the daylight on the way up.
This ominous weather broke without incident and the sun came out.

See the spray from a whale's blow hole? Lower left.
An abandoned cannery town. Well, for the most part abandoned. We spotted smoke from a camp fire? I can't imagine anyone actually living here but I can see how it would make a cool camping location.
Notice the trees growing through the roof.

This is the largest year-round running waterfall on the route.
OK, I didn't get a chance to learn what kind of boat this guy was driving. I noticed a couple docked at the floating logging camp. It's really tiny and doesn't look particularly sea-worth but I'm just a land lubber so what do I know? Click on the photo to get a closer look.

The floating logging camp. Notice the helicopter from the the Northbound trip photos.

Not sure who was camped along the shore. Looks pretty rustic.
OK, whale watching is a popular past-time while on the ferry though it's not at all a whale-watching trip. Usually, you first see a spout spray up then try to anticipate where the next spout will appear or, better yet, the whale will show itself. The Captain of the Watch will make an announcement and then everyone will scramble to a window or to the railing to try to catch a glimpse of any part of the whale. I spotted way more whale activity than I was able to catch on my camera. We saw a trio of Orcas crest and dive, a few Gray Whales and a Humpback. Here are my best whale shots, for what it's worth.
The back. Then here comes the tail.
Now it begins to dive.
And then it's gone. Once they dive, just start looking for another whale.
We made it back to Prince Rupert almost without incident. We actually got in an hour early because we did not make the stop at Klemtu like on the way up. This made a big difference to us because we were exhausted and just wanted to get to the hotel and crash. So the whole boat is now back in their vehicles waiting for the ship to make the final dock and the huge door to open. On the way up, they loaded us in the front and we exited the back. This time we loaded through the rear and would exit through the front. At least, that was plan. Wouldn't you know it but those giant hydraulic arms just wouldn't budge? Made an awful racket too. The whole thing is run by computers and the system geeks were working furiously to resolve the problem but no luck.

So the boat pulled out of the dock, spun around, and backed in. Now, how to get all the cars off the boat when we're all facing the wrong direction? Luckily, the rear of the boat had some wiggle room and even campers were able to do three-point turns and turn around and drive off the boat. The tour bus parked along side of us, however, had to back alllllll the way off the boat. We were parked in almost the very front so we were fortunate to have room to cut the wheel hard and drive right off. Whew!

It was mid-morning on our way back from Prince Rupert to Victoria and we were pretty hungry. We left the hotel at 5 a.m. to catch the ferry so it was way past breakfast. We spotted a sign announcing Sue's Place. Once we pulled in we wondered what we'd find in this trailer along the road. But we were hungry so we gave it a shot. We were so glad we did.
Here is Sue in her kitchen, which separates two small dining areas. She makes EVERYTHING herself and by hand. All of the breads, rolls, buns, pastries, cookies, muffins, all of it.
We each had an egg and cheese on a whole wheat bun, a bun baked about an hour before we arrived.
Here's a sampling of what's going on in this little trailer off the highway. I can't find a website for Sue's Place but other folks are talking about her, especially cyclists and hikers.

First peak at the Olympic Mts. on the last day of our vacation. For the sail back to Washington we chose Black Ball Ferry Line, a private company. It left from the Inner Harbor, a stone's throw from our hotel room and it offered several sailings in stead of two. We chose the earliest departure - 6:10 am. This allowed us to leave way earlier than the WA State ferry (noon) and we avoided the drive back to Sidney from where the WA ferry departs. And the difference in price was literally pennies. This route would take us to Port Angeles, adding only about an hour to our total travel time. The weather was great, there was little traffic. We were home by 1 pm (and this included another ferry from Southworth to Fauntleroy - the West Seattle dock about a mile from our house).
On deck on the ferry. In the shot below you can see the top of Sally's head.

A glorious sunrise over the Straight of Juan de Fuca as we sail out of Victoria's Inner Harbor and head back to Washington.